“God does not want our blood, but our faith”—St. Cyprian of Carthage
“For we walk by faith, not by sight,” (2 Cor 5:7)
Sometimes a priest’s own faith journey goes through twists and turns, not necessarily always in his own life.
I began to notice Fe (not her real name) because of three things. One, she only received Communion on the tongue and while kneeling down. Two, she once told me (before going to a confession) that she was deaf but could understand some of what I say if she was close enough to be able to read my lips. Three, she was gravely ill—I was told she had an advanced form of cancer in the uterus—but still could manage to do church cleanup and cultivate the flowering plants around the barangay chapel. I genuinely felt sorry for her. But, to my surprise, she did not show any form of self-pity; if at all, she felt sorry for not being able to do church cleanup and care for the flowers around the church the way she used to.
It was a Friday of August when they called me to see her and give her the last sacraments. By this I took it to mean her family and fellow Lagionaries of Mary thought she was already on a pre-departure mode in her life’s journey. I was in the middle of what I thought a worthy preoccupation, namely, looking into parish finances, when the secretary alerted me about her rather uncertain condition and her family’s request that I come before anything irreversible happens to her. At first, I thought of asking the family if I could come the next day. But I thought better of it and instead decided to leave and heed their request.
Fe’s house lies at the edge of the same path that leads to the barangay’s Catholic chapel. Her husband and a daughter who was nursing a baby herself met me and two Legionaries who accompanied me at the door. At once I requested to see her. Her husband took me through a narrow but well-lit living room to a bed where a very emaciated Fe lay, a thin old blanket covering her body. I asked everyone to give us some privacy so I could hear her confessions. Everybody in the house started to leave us. The house being small, I realized my call for some privacy meant all persons had to go outside.
I made some signs asking Fe if she needed to go to confession. She turned to me and said, “Father, have you forgotten? I already made my confession to you not too long ago?” I understood then that she wanted me to administer the Anointing of the Sick to her. I called her husband, her daughter and fellow Legionaries to join us in Fe’s corner of the house where she lay calmly making herself ready for any eventuality, including, I could only assume, eternity. I saw her consciously straightening herself and clasping her hands together in a gesture of prayer. I made the sign of the cross and led the prayers. Towards the end of the sacramental rite it struck me how peaceful and calm Fe was; she seemed even eager to meet her Maker any time.
The same thing was not true to her family, naturally. Her daughter complained, with a tinge of hurt in her voice, that her mother is no longer able to take in even liquid food. When I asked about her doctor’s instructions, in so many words, I was made to understand that Fe’s fate was already considered beyond any human effort; the family was simply asked to give their mother the best care possible. It was clear to me that the family understood this to mean all they could do was wait for a miracle or prepare for Fe’s inevitable tryst with Sr. Death.
“Why would my mother who spent her life serving God and his Church not merit the gift of a miracle?” her daughter asked one of the Legionaries who confided her tearful remark to me. “And what did you say to her?” I asked the Legionary.
She answered, “I told her that we must keep praying because nobody knows what God’s plan is for their mother. But I added that we must also learn to ultimately submit ourselves to whatever that plan may be.” I could not have said it better. While up to this writing, Fe still holds on to her earthly life, perhaps through the prayers of other believers, her family hopefully grows in faith.
My own faith journey sometimes seems tossed about in a stormy sea of doubt and some cloud of unknowing, especially when I encounter the likes of Fe and their suffering faith. But I find myself again in a safe harbor whenever the faith of her fellow Legionaries comes out like a beacon of light announcing the shore.
After all, the Master himself reminds us: “Truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there”, and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you” (Mt 17:19).